Published: Mar 02, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 02, 2013 06:26 PM
CHAPEL HILL - YMCA members, including racquetball players and former board members, asked the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA Board of Directors last week to reconsider the future of the facility’s racquetball courts openly.
Board members thanked those who spoke, then shut the doors on them.
“In seven years I was director of the Y, we never had a meeting that was closed to anyone that wanted to come to a meeting,” said Howard Tate, the Y’s first executive director. “It’s hard to understand why the board has done this.”
Before closing the door, the board of directors heard public input on the racquetball courts, and agreed to consider a proposed amendment to the bylaws from member Bob Epting and others that would require most board meeting to be open.
How many racquetball players there are, and whether the courts are used enough to justify keeping them, have become questions whose answers depend on whom you ask. The board says the YMCA needs the space now devoted to two racquetball courts to expand exercise-room space and respond to complaints about crowding. Those who love the sport have objected vehemently to the proposed closure.
Board members say a membership survey found the courts were underused and that expanding the fitness room would be a more responsible use of space. Racquetball players said they weren’t surveyed and that the courts are vital.
Racquetball-related brushback reached such a fervor that the YMCA took down its Facebook page, another decision that got criticized at Wednesday’s board meeting.
Issues of transparency and openness surfaced in January after two YMCA members representing a group of racquetball players tried to enter a meeting and were told board meetings were closed.
“That was shameful,” former board member Miriam Rosen told the current board. “In the almost eight years that I served on this board, not once, not once, did we have a closed meeting.”
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf, like Rosen, is a former YMCA board chairwoman.
“We only closed meetings during the period of time that we were interviewing candidates for a new executive director,” Waldorf said.
More people wanted to speak Wednesday than got the chance before board officers cut off the comments and asked the visitors to leave.
“We’ve already given this twice as long as we said we were going to do,” board member Allen Baddour said. “We’ve got to have a meeting.”
Baddour, a Superior Court judge, addressed transparency in a brief interview before the meeting began, as non-board members were leaving the room.
The board could work more effectively, he said, “without folks like you that take down everything that gets said in the decision-making process.”
“The value is not in the decision-making process, but engaging the membership in the issues and the results,” Baddour said.
Outside the meeting, YMCA member Ken Weiss, a music publisher who teaches at UNC and racquetball player, said he thought the decision to trade racquetball courts for a larger fitness center was built on “extremely faulty, shaky information.”
Renovating the facility to expand the fitness room will cost an unknown amount of money that will likely be passed down to members in higher fees, he said.
After the meeting, board Chairwoman Dabney Grinnan said there had been no vote, but that the board was re-evaluating its process and policies. She said the discussion will continue at the board’s next meeting.
“No, it will not be open,” she said. “As long as we are discussing anything about our board, it needs to be a closed meeting.”